* * *
Toni was bored.
The train clattered through the surrounding forests, with nothing but trees and more trees to see on either side.The carriage was mostly empty, with a group of Union workers playing cards at one end with a few showgirls a few seats down. One of the performers had joined in their card game, and by all accounts seemed to be doing rather well.
For the first part of the journey she’d amused herself by working out, using the metal bars along the roof for chinups and the wooden benches for dips. After that, she’d read the book she’d brought with her – a dense tome of the philosophy of neo-Confucianism. Once she’d finished that, she ended up staring out of the window at the endless trees, drumming her fingers on one knee.
Once each fortnight, the train carried the Union payroll from the outlying towns back to Ridley station. It was a nothing job, a milk run. Despite the value of the train’s cargo, no-one was stupid enough to attack a Union train. Either they’d heard rumours about Arcanist involvement, or they’d just seen the show of force the M&SU put on at both stations with crowds of miners, steamfitters and workers accompanied by hulking constructs like the serpentine Soulstone Miners and the massive Rail Golem. Either way, nothing ever happened, but Toni was still assigned to accompany the train.
Suddenly, the train braked, the deceleration jolting people in their seats and sending the miners’ playing cards scattering across the floor. As they cursed and bent down, Toni was already out of her seat, heading towards the engine. A wall of heat hit her as she entered the cabin, the engineer turning as she approached. ‘What’s happened?’ she demanded.
The man swore. ‘We’ve got trouble up ahead. Looks like Neverborn, and explosives on the track. I can slow her down, but she won’t stop in time.’
Toni smiled, flexing her muscles at the prospect. ‘Just slow the train as much as you can. We’ll clear the line.’
Before the man could say anything else, she’d leapt from the train. Crushing a soulstone in her hand, she felt the magical energies coursing through her before she hit the ground running. Speeding up, she overtook the train and dashed towards the waiting forces up ahead.
* * *
Finally caving in to my persistent nagging and enthusiasm for this scenario, Izaak agreed to play the Train Robbery story encounter from book 4, Ripples Of Fate.
I’d already settled on Toni Ironsides to lead my crew – aside from the fact that she’s one of my favourite masters, who else would you expect to be guarding a Union payroll train? Accompanying her was a group of M&SU workers and showgirls, returning from the northern town of Huxley’s Peak to Ridley, and a lone Wind Gamin summoned from the trees.
Toni Ironsides – Arcane Reservoir, Challenge The Crowd, Iron Determination
Cassandra – Recharge Soulstone
Joss – Recharge Soulstone
Seeing the train up ahead and keen to play ‘train robbers’, the Dreamer called a motley assortment of his friends to his side.
The Dreamer – Dreams Of Pain, Otherworldly
Doppelganger – Mimic’s Blessing
Mr Graves – Thousand Faces
Teddy – Thousand Faces
Being a story encounter, all the schemes were available. I chose Gathering Power (revealed) and Breakthrough (unrevealed), while Izaak chose Deliver A Message (revealed) and Bodyguard on the Doppelganger (unrevealed).
* * *
The Arcanists won the initative, with the Wind Gamin Leaping forward and taking a couple of walk actions. In response, one of the Daydreams used Lead Nightmare to push the nearby Widow Weaver forward, before sacrificing itself to give the Dreamer a Lucid Nightmare. Seeing the power gathering ahead, one of the Union Miners walked forward to the little station platform ahead.
The Dreamer summoned more of his nightmarish friends to join the battle, Coppelius flexing his fingers and the shadowy Bandersnatch creeping from the darkness. He healed Coppelius before lowering his Waking by one, sleeping soundly despite the monsters around him. Taking advantage of his Accomplice, the Bandersnatch crawled into Teddy’s shadow, the hulking bear grinning maliciously as its shadow extended menacingly. The second Union Miner walked forward to join his companion, while Coppelius also stalked forward. Seeing the Neverborn creatures gathering, Toni sprinted forward along the left-hand side of the tracks, ready to lead the charge and protect the train. In response, the imposing Mr Graves used Show Ya The Door to pull the Doppelganger forward before dropping a scheme marker on the railway line. Joss moved to join Toni on the left-hand side of the tracks, while the Widow Weaver scuttled closer to Toni and her miners, throwing a web marker down on the platform. Cassandra moved forward, and Coppelius was pushed even further forward by one of the Dreamer’s Daydreams.
Trying to pull the creature into the open, one of Cassandra’s Performers used her Siren Call on the Widow Weaver, but the spider-like creature proved immune to even the magically-enhanced tricks of Colette’s girls and resisted the action. Seeing the girl out of position, Teddy strode forward, using Gobble You Up to push into base contact before attacking the Performer, dealing moderate damage and taking her down to one wound. Wary of the Doppelganger who was still to activate (and able to get a scheme marker in place to derail the train), I decided to gamble, activating my second Performer who dropped down off the train and used Siren Call on the first Performer. She hit the trigger to take a free attack, ruthlessly killing her companion – and giving Cassandra Reactivate via Precious in the process. With nothing else left to activate, Izaak walked his Doppelganger forward before dropping a scheme marker and having her Blend In. Attempting to move away from Teddy so she could remove the scheme marker, Cassandra tried to Nimble out of combat… only to be held in place by the nightmarish creature, ending my last chance of removing the scheme marker. She tried to attack the hulking creature, promptly failing her Terrifying test and ending her activation.
The turn ended, and the train hurtled forward, colliding with the Doppelganger’s scheme marker and derailing! Crates of scrip spilled out the back, so while I now had no chance of auto-winning the game by getting the train off the board at least the loot markers were a fair distance away from the rest of the Neverborn…
With a ear-splitting screech of metal the locomotive hit the mine, the force of the blast lifting all 110 tons of the engine off the track for a moment before it crashed back down. Slewing to one side, the train ground to a halt, throwing up plumes of dirt and steam. The Dreamer whooped and capered as it lurched to a full stop, laughing at the decapitated bodies of the engineers amidst the wreckage of the cabin. ‘Wasn’t that fun? Wasn’t it?’ he asked the Neverborn around him, the Widow Weaver slowly nodding in agreement. ‘Come on you lot!’ he exclaimed, pointing to the train. ‘It’s not a proper robb’ry unless you steal the loot!’
Coppelius took advantage of winning the initiative, charging the nearest Union Miner and hitting his sinister I Want Them Both trigger. The Arcanists around him had clearly seen much worse, though, as everyone passed the resulting horror duel. His second attack did weak damage, leaving the Miner standing but wounded.
Seeking to neutralize the threat before it could activate, my remaining Performer walked forward before using her Siren Call on the Teddy. I threw in the Red Joker from my hand, choosing the crow trigger and Paralyzing Teddy. Meanwhile, the Widow Weaver threw down another web marker on the platform before using Exhale Fear on Toni. The first attack did severe damage despite being on a [-], though again the Arcanists around her managed to pass the horror duel. The second attack only managed weak damage, which was prevented by a soulstone. My wounded Miner took advantage of the sheer number of buffs he was receiving – Hand-Picked Men from Toni and Stand Together from the other Miner being nearby – and walked into range of Coppelius, attacking the creature but only managing weak damage despite the [+] [+] to his damage flip.
Mr Graves moved the Dreamer upfield with Show Ya The Door, and then used Keeping The Peace in spectacular fashion by flipping the Red Joker! The second Union Miner did a little better than his friend despite only benefiting from Stand Together, walking in and doing moderate damage to Coppelius. The Dreamer continued to call more nightmares into reality, summoning an Insidious Madness and an Alp onto the station platform before lowering his Waking again. The Insidious Madness chain activated, healing itself from the Dreamer’s Pleasant Dreams before trying to Induce Phobia. Despite the tormenting images Toni passed the duel, though the Miner next to her wasn’t so strong-willed.
Cassandra walked twice away from the Teddy, using Understudy to copy Siren Call and pull Joss towards the Teddy. (In hindsight, I should’ve just left Cassandra to deal with him and kept Joss on the other side of the table where he could deal with the Dreamer’s summons). The remaining Daydream walked forward, while Toni joined the fray. Her first attack killed the Alp in front of her, but the Insidious Madness proved to be a tougher opponent and evaded the attack. Using Stand Up, Stand Tall to heal herself, Toni attacked Coppelius but flipped the Black Joker for the attack flip, missing the creature.
While the Teddy stood immobile, its shadow writhed around with a life of its own as the Bandersnatch struck. The clawed shadow hit the nearby Performer, catching her by surprise and dealing weak damage. Knowing what to expect, she managed to dodge the second attack just as Joss charged past her, barrelling into the Teddy. His Arc Axe cleaved through fur and stuffing, dealing moderate damage. Despite the paralysis, he still managed to miss his second attack! In response, the Teddy activated to clear Paralyze, while the Wind Gamin walked behind the Hitching Post. Finally, the Doppelganger copied Exhale Terror, though Toni burnt another soulstone to prevent damage.
More of the Neverborn creatures appeared on the station, and pandemonium errputed around the wreckage of the train. A long-limbed creature with tentacles for a mouth was grappling with Mikael, its long fingers grasping for his eyes as he tried to fight it off with his mining tools. Next to him, his companion Josef was paralyzed by fear as waves of terror emanated from the shapeless form on the platform.
Winning the initiative, the Neverborn unsurprisingly opted to go first, and the Insidious Madness handed over a wax-sealed envelope to Toni to score 3vp from Deliver A Message. In retaliation, the wounded Union Miner attacked Coppelius. His first attack missed, though the second attack connected and finally killed the creature.
Sulking somewhat since the Unionists weren’t playing fair by killing his creations, the Dreamer summoned a Stitched Together. As the burlap creature appeared, its rotten stuffing spilt everywhere, killing the wounded Union Miner and wounding both his companion and Ms. Ironsides. His mood brightened by the appearance of his new friend, the Dreamer lowered his Waking before re-summoning Coppelius. The Stitched Together activated by Accomplice, playing a twisted Game Of Chance with the Miner and drawing some cards.
Seeking to keep the Teddy out of the fray, Joss attacked with his Pneumatic Fist. In an impressive display of strength and wrestling ability that would put Mancha Roja to shame, he choke-slammed the Teddy into the ground, Paralyzing the creature again!
Continuing her assault, the Widow Weaver put down a third web marker before using Exhale Fear against Toni. The Arcanist leader burnt another precious soulstone to prevent the damage, and managed to pass the horror duel from the second attack. In response, Toni used Rush ‘Em to engage the Doppelganger, flipping the Red Joker for damage on her first attack! Her second punch killed the mimic, and Toni walked into the middle of engagement with the Dreamer, Widow Weaver and Daydream to set up her Adrenaline for the next turn. Seeing Toni deal with the Doppelganger and muttering something about, ‘If you want something done right…’, Mr Graves walked twice to engage her as well.
The Performer fled from the Teddy, leaving the Bandersnatch free to attack Joss, and dealing moderate damage on the first attack followed by weak on the second. The Wind Gamin interacted for a scheme marker before fluttering further into the Neverborn side of the field, while the Daydream pushed Coppelius further upfield and pushed Teddy away from Joss. Seeing the gangly figure, Cassandra attempted to finish Coppelius off with her Breath Of Fire, but fate favoured the Neverborn creature as I flipped the Black Joker for damage. Taking advantage of his luck, Coppelius walked forward to base contact with two of the treasure markers…
With a surge of adrenaline, Toni rushed forward towards the Neverborn shapeshifter. It turned towards her, taking on the appearance of her long-dead mum – but the attempted subterfuge only served to enrage Toni. Her fist hammered into its face, sending it reeling in a spray of blood and teeth. It staggered backwards, losing control of its mimicry as a multitude of personas appeared and disappeared over its face. Before it could react further, Toni’s uppercut connected with its jaw, snapping its head back with a sickening crack as its neck broke.
Fate favoured the Neverborn as they won the initiative, and Coppelius took two of the treasure markers. Determined to finish the job, Joss charged the Teddy again, his Arc Axe finally cleaving through the creature and leaving it as little more than a pile of stuffing and thread. The Stitched Together continued gambling with the remaining Union Miner and, despite the Wp penalty from three web markers, the Miner won the first game! We all know you can never really win a game when playing against a Stitched Together, though, as it played a Game Of Chance again and won this time.
Seeing the Bandersnatch out in the open now that Teddy was gone, Cassandra focused her energies before letting loose a gout of flame, the sorcerous energies killing the incorporeal creature. She pushed back towards the remaining scrip in a Swirl Of Motion, before putting on her innocent-showgirl look with her Southern Charm.
Attempting to get Toni away from his boss, Mr Graves tried to Show Ya The Door. Despite the mimic’s trunk-like biceps and strength, Toni’s Bring It! ability kept her safe and she held her ground. Activating in response, Toni was in her element as she rocketed up to Adrenaline +6. She hammered her Brass Knuckles into the Widow Weaver, flipping the Red Joker (again!) for damage and hitting the Follow Through trigger. Her Uppercut sent the spider-creature flying backwards with a sickening crunch, hitting the trigger again to lower her Adrenaline. Pushing back into the fray, Toni punched the Daydream, though it seems that punching the insubstantial creations of a child’s memory aren’t necessarily the best way to kill it as she only managed weak damage. She punched it again for her second ap, killing it before walking back towards the loot markers and healing back to full health from Stand Up, Stand Tall. Stand tall indeed Toni, that was a good activation!
Inspired by his boss’s attacks, the remaining Union Miner used Companion to activate, swinging his hammer down on the Stitched Together… only to flip the Black Joker for his attack flip. His second attack managed moderate damage, but left the rotting creature standing. Nearby, the Insidious Madness used Induce Phobia twice, but both Toni and the Miner passed their horror duels now that the Widow Weaver’s web markers had been removed. Meanwhile, the Wind Gamin continued to be a nuisance, dropping a scheme marker before Leaping and dropping another one.
Walking forward to the loot, the Dreamer summoned a Daydream to his side… and reached Waking +4, disappearing from Malifaux to be replaced by the terrifying Lord Chompy Bits. The Performer continued fleeing, dropping a scheme marker in the process, and Lord Chompy Bits attacked Cassandra. His Ten-Inch Claws cut deep, dealing moderate damage and hitting the Onslaught trigger. Even a formidable duellist like Cassandra was powerless against the brutality of the tyrant, suffering weak damage before his second attack knocked her sword from her hands and sent her flying backwards where she collapsed, unmoving. Playtime over, the Dreamer unburied next to his friend as Lord Chompy Bits faded away, his myriad of malicious red eyes being the last feature to disappear.
‘It’s not fair!’ The Dreamer’s cry echoed around the forest. ‘You’re not s’posed to do that!’ He pointed angrily at the prone figure of the Widow Weaver. Around him, reality began to distort as his anger affected the very fabric of Malifaux. ‘I’ll show you!’
With a discordant screech reality was torn asunder for a brief second, before the world snapped back into place – and, standing where the little boy had been, was a six-armed figure from nightmare. Cassandra turned towards it, instinctively raising her sabre, but a flurry of muscluar arms sent her reeling back, blood staining her dress. She parried one of the arms, before another grabbed the sword and ripped it from her grip. With a gutteral roar, Lord Chompy Bits casually backhanded the showgirl, sending her flying backwards where she hit the ground, unmoving. As the monstrous figure of Lord Chompy Bits faded away, the Dreamer stood where he had been, a smug grin crossing his face. ‘Hah! That showed you!’
Seizing the initiative, Toni activated and lowered her Adrenaline to Rush ‘Em, jumping into base contact with the Dreamer and blocking his line of sight to Coppelius. Having seen just what this ‘defenceless child’ was capable of, Toni didn’t hold back, hammering a punch that hit home for moderate damage and gained her another stack of Adrenaline. Her second punch hit the Follow Through trigger, and the Uppercut sent the child stumbling backwards, where his form finally faded from Malifaux as he woke up Earthside.
Seeing the Wind Gamin fluttering around in the Neverborn back field, Graves moved to engage him, his Fence Post attack dealing moderate damage to the little creature. Seeking to finish off the tenacious Stitched Together, the Miner swing his hammer… and flipped the Black Joker again for his attack. Hefting the weapon, he aimed a killing blow… and missed the second attack. In response, the Stitched Together challenged him to Gamble Your Life, winning the duel and killing the Miner before dropping a scheme marker down to try and counteract the sea of blue markers.
Joss walked back towards the loot, standing in-between the two remaining markers to discourage anyone from trying to steal them. With Joss now blocking the markers, the Insidious Madness dropped down another scheme marker, while the Wind Gamin Leapt away from Mr Graves to lay down another scheme marker, flying away from the muscled mimic. The remaining Daydream pushed both Coppelius and the Stitched Together, while the Performer walked further into the Neverborn deployment zone and interacted for another scheme marker. Coppelius attacked Joss, but the big man avoided the first attack. Reaching in again, the nightmare’s second attack hit, even managing to paralyse Joss in terror. But, with that, the game ended in an 8-6 victory for the Arcanists.
Toni didn’t hesitate as she closed in on the boy. She’d seen enough of what he could do to know that he wasn’t human, or at the very least was somehow leading the Neverborn. The boy turned to her as she approached, that smug grin still on his face – right up until her brass knuckles connected with the smile, twisting his head to one side. Turning to face her, he looked down at the blood on his white nightshirt in shock. ‘Hey, now, this is my dream! You’re not s’posed to be able to…’ He never got a chance to finish his sentence, as Toni continued her relentless assault, battering the Dreamer before landing a vicious uppercut. His body faded away before it could hit the ground with a giggle of childish laughter – not the strangest thing she’d seen in Malifaux, Toni mused, as she turned to the remaining nightmares next to her.
* * *
This was such a fun encounter, and one I’d highly recommend playing if you want a break from the usual rulebook / Gaining Grounds strats and schemes. Maybe it’s just all the old Western films and games like Red Dead Redemption, but to my mind a train heist is just so cool!
In hindsight, I’ve realised that actions like Induce Phobia were horror duels, not willpower tests, and so my models would have automatically passed the second attack (such as in turn 4). Izaak’s been playing Pandora quite a lot, so I just assume that all attacks like that are willpoewr duels nowadays, whoops!